Pressley’s ‘no’ to more military aid to Israel was the right thing to do

Peace Advocate November 2021

Rep. Ayanna Pressley/ Bloomberg News photo
Rep. Ayanna Pressley/ Bloomberg News photo

by Jeff Klein

Originally published in the Dorchester Reporter

Recently, US Rep. Ayanna Pressley voted against an additional $1 billion in military aid to Israel that was rushed through by the leadership of House of Representatives without a hearing or even a meaningful debate. For this she has been attacked by pro-Israel pundits as being somehow “anti-Israel” or even denying Israel “the right to defend itself.”

These charges are false and here is why:

US taxpayers already pay more than $3.8 billion every year in military aid to Israel, a good portion of which is dedicated to Israel’s missile defense program. This is vastly more than the aid we give to any other country. Cumulatively, over many decades, the US has given, in current dollars, more than a quarter of a trillion dollars in military aid to Israel.

No one, least of all Ayanna Pressley, is saying that Israel cannot use any portion of this aid – or money from its own taxpayers – to build as many defensive weapons as it desires.

Still, it is arguable that some portion of US military aid is already being used by Israel in contradiction to US law. Statutes already on the books require that weaponry supplied by the US be used exclusively for self-defense and never in ways that violate well-accepted human rights standards.

But US military aid has been used repeatedly to bomb Gaza and to attack Israel’s neighbors. Israel has maintained a seemingly permanent occupation of the West Bank and has carried out an illegal settlement program that has been repeatedly condemned by the UN. It also contravenes long-standing US policy. Israel has illegally annexed occupied territory in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Syria. It has invaded and occupied Lebanese territory numerous times, illegally bombs Syria almost every week, and daily threatens to attack Iran.

If Israeli taxpayers, rather than the US, had to shoulder more of the burden for its military spending, then perhaps they might be encouraged to question their government’s policies, which violate international and US law, deny human rights to Palestinians, and maintain a cruel blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Recently, a bill was filed in Congress to hold Israel at least partly answerable for its mistreatment of Palestinian children and families. Israel has repeatedly employed US weaponry to kill hundreds of minors in its attacks on Gaza and scores more Palestinian children who protested Israeli occupation of the West Bank. Israel regularly and violently detains Palestinian children, without allowing them access to their own parents or legal representation. We are grateful that both US House members representing Dorchester House, Pressley and Stephen Lynch, have co-sponsored HR 2590, a very modest but worthwhile step to hold Israel accountable.

Last week, the spokesperson for a local pro-Israel organization warned Pressley that “reserves of tolerance are not limitless when a member of Congress votes against pro-Israel policies.” This is unacceptable. The voters in the 7th Congressional district who elected Pressley to Congress rightly expect that she will represent their interests as constituents and US taxpayers, rather than express unfailing loyalty to a foreign country.

Questioning the amount of US aid to Israel is no betrayal. There are many unmet needs in the US that could use funding, about which we are often told “we cannot afford.” It is time to examine whether at least part of our military aid dollars could be better employed at home, rather than buying more bombs and missiles for Israel.

Ayanna Pressley’s tireless advocacy for domestic needs and progressive policies deserves the respect and support of her constituents, not the unfounded charge that she is “anti-Israel.”

— Jeff Klein, a Dorchester resident and a retired local union president, is active with Dorchester People for Peace and serves on the board of Massachusetts Peace Action.